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Wulfric the Weapon Thane
by Charles W. Whistler
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E-text prepared by Martin Robb



WULFRIC THE WEAPON THANE

A Story of the Danish Conquest of East Anglia

by

CHARLES W. WHISTLER



PREFACE.

A word may be needed with regard to the sources from which this story of King Eadmund's armour bearer and weapon thane have been drawn. For the actual presence of such a close attendant on the king at his martyrdom on Nov. 20, 870 A.D. we have the authority of St. Dunstan, who had the story from the lips of the witness himself.

But as to the actual progress of events before the death of the king, the records are vague and imperfect. We are told that, after the defeat at Thetford, the king had intended to seek safety in the church, probably at Framlingham, where the royal household was, but was forced to hide, and from his hiding place was dragged before Ingvar the Danish leader, and so slain.

The two local legends of the "king's oak" in Hoxne woods, and of the "gold bridge", may fill in what is required to complete the story.

The former, identifying a certain aged oak as that to which the king was bound, has been in a measure corroborated by the discovery in 1848 of what may well have been a rough arrow point in its fallen trunk; while the fact that, until the erection of the new bridge at Hoxne in 1823, no newly-married couple would cross the "gold bridge" on the way to church, for the reasons given in the story, seems to show that the king's hiding place may indeed have been beneath it as the legend states. If so, the flight from Thetford must have been most precipitate, and closely followed.

There are two versions of the story of Lodbrok the Dane and Beorn the falconer. That which is given here is from Roger of Wendover. But in both versions the treachery of one Beorn is alleged to have been the cause of the descent of Ingvar and Hubba on East Anglia.

These chiefs and their brother Halfden, and Guthrum, are of course historic. Their campaign in England is hard to trace through the many conflicting chronicles, but the broad outlines given by the almost contemporary Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, supplemented with a few incidents recorded in the Heimskringla of Sturleson as to the first raid on Northumbria by Ingvar, are sufficient for the purposes of a story that deals almost entirely with East Anglia.

The legend of the finding of the head of the martyred king is given in the homily for November 20 of the Anglo-Saxon Sarum Breviary, and is therefore of early date. It may have arisen from some such incident as is given here.

Details of the death of Bishop Humbert are wanting. We only know that he was martyred at about the same time as the king, or perhaps with him, and that his name is remembered in the ancient kalendars on the same day. For describing his end as at his own chapel, still standing at South Elmham, the fate of many a devoted priest of those times might be sufficient warrant.

As to the geography of the East Anglian coast, all has changed since King Eadmund's days, with the steady gaining of alluvial land on sea at the mouth of the once great rivers of Yare and Waveney. Reedham and Borough were in his time the two promontories that guarded the estuary, and where Yarmouth now stands were sands, growing indeed slowly, but hardly yet an island even at "low-water springs". Above Beccles perhaps the course of the Waveney towards Thetford has altered little in any respect beyond the draining of the rich marshland along its banks, and the shrinking of such tributaries as the Hoxne or Elmham streams to half-dry rivulets.

With a few incidental exceptions, the modern spelling of place names has been adopted in these pages. No useful purpose would be served by a reproduction of what are now more or less uncouth if recognizable forms of the well-known titles of town and village and river.

C. W. W.



CHAPTER I. HOW LODBROK THE DANE CAME TO REEDHAM.

Elfric, my father, and I stood on our little watch tower at Reedham, and looked out over the wide sea mouth of Yare and Waveney, to the old gray walls of the Roman Burgh on the further shore, and the white gulls cried round us, and the water sparkled in the fresh sea breeze from the north and east, and the bright May-time sun shone warmly on us, and our hearts went out to the sea and its freedom, so that my father said:

"Once again is the spirit of Hengist stirring in me, and needs must that you and I take ship, and go on the swan's path even as our forefathers went; let us take the good ship somewhere—anywhere to be on the sea again. What say you, son Wulfric?"

And at that I was very glad, for I had longed for that word of his. For never, since I could remember, was a time when I knew not all that a boy might learn, for his years, of sea and the seaman's craft; and the sea drew me, calling me as it were with its many voices, even as it drew my father.

Yet, all unlike Hengist and his men, we sailed but for peaceful gain, and very rich grew Elfric, the thane of Reedham; for ours was the only ship owned by English folk on all our East Anglian shores, and she brought us wealth year by year, as we sailed to Humber and Wash northwards, and Orwell and Thames to the south, as seemed best for what merchandise we had for sale or would buy. But, more than all, my father and I alike sailed for the love of ship and sea, caring little for the gain that came, so long as the salt spray was over us, and we might hear the hum of the wind in the canvas, or the steady roll and click of the long oars in the ship's rowlocks, and take our chance of long fights with wind and wave on our stormy North Sea coasts.

So we went down to the shipyard, under the lee of Reedham Hill, and found old Kenulf our pilot, and with him went round our stout Frisian ship that my father had bought long ago, and at once bade him get ready for sailing as soon as might be. And that was a welcome order to Kenulf and our crew also; for well do the North Folk of East Anglia love the sea, if our Saxon kin of the other kingdoms have forgotten for a while the ways of their forbears.

Not so welcome was our sailing to my mother, who must sit at home listening to the song of the breezes and the roll of breakers, with her heart stirred to fear for us at every shift of wind and change of tide. And fair Eadgyth, my sister, beautiful with the clear beauty of a fair-haired Saxon lady, shared in her fears also, though I think that she believed that no storm could rage more fiercely than her father and brother and their crew could ride through in safety. Once she had sailed with us in high summer time to London, and so she held that she knew well all the ways of the ship and sea; fearing them a little, maybe.

Yet there was another dread in the heart of my mother, for this is what she said:

"What of the Danes, Elfric, my husband? Surely there is risk—aye, and great risk—of falling into their hands."

Thereat my father laughed easily, and answered:

"Not to an East Anglian ship now; for they have kept the pact we have made with them. And they watch not our shores for ships, but the long Frisian and Frankish coasts. There need be no fear of them."

So my mother was reassured, and in a fortnight's time we had gathered a mixed cargo, though no great one; and sailed, with a shift of wind to the southwest, into the Wash, and so put into the king's haven on its southern shore, where we would leave our goods with a merchant whom we knew.

On the second day after we came the wind shifted to the eastward, and then suddenly to the northeast, and blew a gale, so that we bided in the haven till it was over. For though it was not so heavy that we could not have won through it in open water with little harm, it was of no use risking ship and men on a lee shore for naught.

Our friend, the merchant, kept us with him gladly, and there we heard the last news of the Danish host, with whom we had made peace two years since; for nowadays that news had become of the first interest to every man in all England; though not yet in the right way. For we had not yet learnt that England must be truly one; and so long as he himself was unharmed, little cared an East Anglian what befell Mercian or Northumbrian, even as Wessex or Sussex cared for naught but themselves. Wherefore, all we longed to know was that the Danish host was not about to fall on us, being employed elsewhere.

We had found gain rather than hurt by their coming, for we had, as I say, made peace with them, and, moreover, sold them horses. Then they had honestly left our coasts, and had gone to York, and thereafter to Nottingham. Now Northumbria was theirs, and Mercia was at their feet. And now again we learnt that they bided in peace at York, and we were content.

Three days it blew, and then the gale was spent; though the sea still ran high and swift. So we bade farewell to our friend the merchant and set sail, and if the passage homewards was rough, it was swifter than we had hoped.

So it came to pass that we reached the wide inlet of our haven at the Yare's mouth too soon for the tide to take us in over the sands which grow and shift every year, and must needs drop anchor in the roads and wait, with home in sight, hill and church and houses clear and sharp against the afternoon sky after rain; while past us the long surges the storm had raised raced in over half-hidden sands, and broke in snow-white foam along the foot of the sand dunes of the shore, sending the spindrift flying up and inland over their low crests.

Mostly the boats would have been out to meet us, and maybe to tow us in, sparing our crew a little; but today no boat might come, for the seas were too heavy over the bar, so that it would have been death to any man foolish enough to try to reach us; and we looked for none. So as the stout ship wallowed and plunged at her anchors—head to wind and sea, and everything, from groaning timbers to song of wind-curved rigging and creak of swinging yard, seeming to find a voice in answer to the plunge and wash of the waves, and swirl and patter of flying spray over the high bows—we found what shelter we might under bulwarks and break of fore deck, and waited.

My father and I sat on the steersman's bench aft, not heeding the showers of spray that reached us now and then even there, and we watched the tide rising over the sand banks, and longed for home and warm fireside, instead of this cold, gray sky and the restless waves; though I, at least, was half sorry that the short voyage was over, dreaming of the next and whither we might turn our ship's bows again before the summer ended.

My father looked now and then shoreward, and now seaward, judging wind and tide, and sitting patiently with the wondrous patience of the seaman, learnt in years of tide and calm; for he would tell me that sea learning never ends, so that though the sailor seemed to be idle, he must needs be studying some new turn of his craft if only his eyes were noting how things went around him. Yet I thought he was silent beyond his wont.

Presently he rose up and paced the deck for a little, and then came and sat down by me again.

"I am restless, son Wulfric," he said, laughing softly; "and I know not why."

"For the sake of supper," I answered, "for I am that also, and tide seems mighty slow therefore."

"Nay, supper comes to the patient; but it seems to me that I have to watch for somewhat."

"Surely for naught but the tide," I answered, not thinking much of the matter, but yet wondering a little.

"Not for tide or wind, but for somewhat new, rather—somewhat of which I have a fear.

"But this is foolishness," he said, laughing again at himself, for few men thought less of signs and forewarnings than he.

Then he looked out again to windward, under his hand, and all of a sudden turned sharply to me, pointing and saying:

"But, as I live, hither comes something from the open sea!"

I rose up and looked to where he showed me, and as the ship rose to a great wave, far off I saw a dark speck among white-crested rollers, that rose and fell, and came ever nearer, more swiftly than wreckage should.

Now some of the men who clustered under the shelter of the fore deck, with their eyes ever on us, rose up from their places and began to look out seaward over the bows through the spray to find out what we watched, and ere long one man called to his mates:

"Ho, comrades, here comes flotsam from the open sea!"

Slowly the men rose up one by one and looked, clustering round the stem head, and a little talk went round as to what this might be.

"It is a bit of wreck," said one.

"Hardly, for the gale has not been wild enough to wreck a ship in the open; 'tis maybe lumber washed from a deck," answered another.

"It is a whale—no more or less."

"Nay," said old Kenulf; "it behaves not as a whale, and it comes too swiftly for wreckage."

"Would it were a dead whale. Then would be profit," said another man again, and after that the men were silent for a long while, having said all that could be guessed, and watched the speck that drew nearer and nearer, bearing down on us.

At last my father, ever keen of sight, said to me:

"This thing is not at the mercy of wind and wave. Rather has it the rise and fall of a boat well handled. Yet whence should one come in this heavy sea, after three days' gale?"

Even as he spoke, old Kenulf growled, half to himself, that to his thinking this was a boat coming, and handled, moreover, by men who knew their trade. Thereat some of the men laughed; for it seemed a thing impossible, both by reason of the stretch of wild sea that so small a craft as this—if it were indeed a boat—must have crossed, and because the sea was surely too heavy to let one live.

Yet in the end we saw that it was a boat, and that in her, moreover, was but one man, whose skill in handling her was more than ours, and greater than we could deem possible.

Whereupon some of us were afraid, seeing how wondrously the tiny craft came through the swift seas, and a man called out, giving voice to our fears:

"Surely yon man is a Finn and the wizard who has raised this storm to drown us; now are we lost!"

And I—who had listened eagerly to all the wild stories of the seamen, since first I was old enough to wander curiously over the ships from overseas that put into our haven on their way up the great rivers to Norwich, or Beccles, or other towns—knew that the Finns have powers more than mortal (though how or whence I know not) over wind and sea, often using their power to the hurt of others, and so looked to see the lines of a great squall, drawn as it were astern of the wizard's boat, whitening as it rushed upon us to sink us in sight of home.

But old Kenulf cried out on the man, saying:

"Rather is it one of the holy saints, and maybe the blessed Peter the fisherman himself," and he bared his gray head, crossing himself, as he looked eagerly to catch sight of the glory of light round the seafarer; and that rebuked my fears a little.

But squall or crown of light was there none. Only the brown waves, foam crested, which we feared not, and the gray light of the clouded sun that was nigh to setting.

My father heeded naught of this, but watched the boat, only wondering at the marvellous skill of her steersman. And when the boat was so near that it was likely that the eyes of the man were on us, my father raised his arm in the seaman's silent greeting, and I thought that the boatman returned the salute.

Now the course that the boat was holding when that signal passed would have taken her wide of us by half a cable's length, but she was yet so far distant that but a little change would bring her to us. Some sort of sail she seemed to have, but it was very small and like nothing I had ever seen, though it was enough to drive her swiftly and to give her steering way before the wind. Until my father signed to him the man seemed to have no wish to near our ship, going on straight to what would be certain destruction amid the great breakers on our largest sand bar, and that made the men more sure that he was a wizard, and there were white faces enough among them.

"Now," said my father to me, "doubtless this is what was put in my mind when I felt I must watch. Had I not seen him, yon man would have been surely lost; for I think he cannot see the breakers from his boat," and again he signed to the boatman.

Then from the little craft rose a great, long-winged hawk that cried and hovered over it for a little, as if loth to leave it; and one man said, shrinking and pale, that it was the wizard's familiar spirit. But the wind caught the bird's long wings and drove it from the boat, and swiftly wheeling it must needs make for us, speeding down the wind with widespread, still pinions.

Then cried aloud that same terrified man:

"It is a sending, and we are done for!" thinking that, as Finns will, the wizard they deemed him had made his spells light on us in this visible form. But my father held out his hand, whistling a falconer's call, and the great bird flew to him, and perched on his wrist, looking bravely at us with its bright eyes as though sure of friendship.

"See!" said my father loudly; "this is a trained bird, and no evil sending; here are the jesses yet on its feet."

And Kenulf and most of the men laughed, asking the superstitious man if the ship sank deeper, or seas ran higher for its coming.

"Hold you the bird," said my father to me; "see! the boatman makes for us."

I took the beautiful hawk gladly, for I had never seen its like before, and loved nothing better when ashore than falconry, and as I did so I saw that its master had changed the course of his boat and was heading straight for us. Now, too, I could make out that what we had thought a sail was but the floor boarding of the boat reared up against a thwart, and that the man was managing her with a long oar out astern.

The great hawk's sharp talons were like steel on my ungloved wrist, piercing through the woollen sleeve of my jerkin, but I heeded them not, so taken up was I with watching this man who steered so well and boldly in so poorly fitted a craft. And the boat was, for all that, most beautiful, and built on such lines as no Saxon boat had. Well we know those wondrous lines now, for they were those of the longships of the vikings.

Now the men forward began to growl as the boat came on to us, and when my father, seeing that the man would seek safety with us, bade those on the fore deck stand by with a line to heave to him as he came, no man stirred, and they looked foolishly at one another.

Then my father called sharply to Kenulf by name, giving the same order, and the old man answered back:

"Bethink you, Thane; it is ill saving a man from the sea to be foe to you hereafter. Let him take his chance."

Thereat my father's brow grew dark, for he hated these evil old sayings that come from heathen days, and he cried aloud:

"That is not the way of a Christian or a good seaman! Let me come forward."

And in a moment he was on the fore deck, where the men made hasty way for him. There the long lines were coiled, ready for throwing to the shore folk on our wharf, both fore and aft. My father caught up one at his feet and stood ready, for now the boat was close on us, and I could see the white set face of her steersman as he watched for the line he knew was coming, and wherein lay his only slender hope of safety.

My father swung his arm and cast. Swift and true fled the coils from his hand—but fell short by two fathoms or less, and the boat swept past our bows, as the men held their breath, watching and ashamed.

But I also had caught up the coil from the after deck, fearing lest my father should not have been in time, while the hawk fluttered and gripped my arm in such wise that at any other time I should have cried out with the pain of the sharp piercing of its talons. Yet it would not leave me.

The boat flew on, but the man had his eyes on me—not looking vainly for the lost end of the first line among the foam as many another man would—and I saw that he was ready.

I threw; and the hawk screamed and clutched, as it lost its balance, and beat my face with its great wings, and I could not see for its fluttering; but the men shouted, and I heard my father's voice cry "Well done!" Then I made fast the end of the line round the main-sheet cleat, for that told me that the man had caught on.

Then the bird was still, and I looked up. I saw the boat pass astern as the man made fast the line round the fore thwart, with his eyes on the wave that came. Then he sprang to the steering oar, and in a moment the boat rounded to on the back of a great wave and was safe before the crest of the next roller ran hissing past me, to break harmless round her bows.

Then the man looked up, smiling to me, lifted his hand in greeting, and then straightway laid in the steering oar. Having found a bailing bowl in the stern sheets, he set to work to clear out the water that washed about in the bottom of the boat; then he replaced the floor boards, and all things being shipshape, sat down quickly in the stern, putting his head into his hands, and there bided without moving, as if worn out and fain to rest for a while.

Now it was like to be a hard matter to get the boat alongside in that sea, and we must needs wait till the man took in hand to help, so we watched him as he sat thus, wondering mostly at the boat, for it was a marvel to all of us. Sharp were her bows and stern, running up very high, and her high stem post was carved into the likeness of a swan's neck and head, and the wings seemed to fall away along the curve of the bows to the carved gunwale, that was as if feathered, and at last the stern post rose and bent like a fan of feathers to finish all. Carved, too, were rowlocks and the ends of the thwarts, and all the feathered work was white and gold above the black of the boat's hull. Carved, too, was the baling bowl, and the loom of the oar was carved in curving lines from rowlock leather to hand. And as I thought of the chances of our losing her as we crossed the bar among the following breakers, I was grieved, and would have asked my father to let us try to get her on deck if we could.

But now the man roused, and put his hands to his mouth, hailing us to ask if we would suffer him to come on board, and my father hailed him back to bid him do so. Then it would seem that our men were ashamed, having once disobeyed my father whom they loved, not to finish the work that we had begun, and so, without waiting for the order, saw to getting the boat up to our quarter, so that it was but a minute or two before the man leapt on our deck, and the boat was once more astern at the length of her line.

"Thanks, comrades," said the man; "out of Ran's {i} net have you brought me, and ill fall me if I prove foe to you, as the old saw bodes."

Now as one looked at this storm-beaten wanderer there was no doubt but that he was surely a prince among men, and I for one marvelled at his look and bearing after what he must have gone through. Drenched and salt crusted were his once rich clothes, tangled and uncared for were his hair and beard, and worn and tired he showed both in face and body, yet his eyes were bright and his speech was strong and free as he swung to the roll of the ship with the step of a sea king. His speech told us that he was a Dane, for though we of the East Angles had never, even before the coming of the great host of which I must tell presently, such great difference of tongue between our own and that of Dane and Frisian but that we could well understand them and speak therein, yet time and distance have given us a new way of handling our words, as one might say, and a new turn to the tones of our voices. Often had I heard the Danish way of speech on board the ships from over sea in our haven, and had caught it up, as I was wont to try to catch somewhat of every tongue that I heard.

So he and we looked at each other for a moment, we wondering at him and he seeking our leader. Nor did he doubt long, taking two steps to my father, holding out his hand, and again thanking him.

My father grasped the offered hand frankly, and, smiling a little, said:

"Rather should you thank Wulfric, my son, here; for it was his line that reached you."

"No fault that of yours," answered the Dane; and he turned to me with the same hearty greeting.

"Now, friend Wulfric, I owe you my life, and therefore from this time forward my life is for yours, if need be. Nor shall my men be behind in that matter—that is if I ever see them again," he added, looking quaintly at me, if gravely.

"Surely you shall do so," I said, "if it is in our power."

"I thank you—and it is well. I know coasts where a stranger would be a slave from the moment his foot touched shore. Now tell me whose ship this is that has given me shelter, and what your father's name is, that I may thank you rightly."

"Elfric, the Thane of Reedham, is my father," I said, "Sheriff of the East Anglian shore of the North Folk, under Eadmund, our king. And this is his ship, and this himself to whom you have spoken."

"Then, Thane and Thane's son, I, whose life you have saved, am Lodbrok, Jarl {ii} of a strip of Jutland coast. And now I have a fear on me that I shall do dishonour to the name of Dane, for I faint for want of food and can stand no more."

With that he sat down on the bench where I had been, and though he smiled at us, we could see that his words were true enough, and that he was bearing bravely what would have overborne most men. And now the falcon fluttered from my wrist to his.

Then my father bade me hasten, and I brought ale and meat for the jarl, and set them before him, and soon he was taking that which he needed; but every now and then he gave to the bird, stroking her ruffled feathers, and speaking softly to her.

"Aye, my beauty," he said once, "I did but cast you down wind lest you should be lost with me. And I would have had you take back the news that I was lost to my own home."

My father stood and watched the tide, and presently I joined him, for I would not hinder the Dane from his meal by watching him. I looked at the beautiful boat astern, tossing lightly on the wave crests, and saw that she would surely be lost over the bar; so I asked my father now, as I had meant before, if we might not try to get her on board.

For answer he turned to Lodbrok.

"Set you much store by your boat, Jarl?" he asked him.

"The boat is yours, Thane, or Wulfric's, by all right of salvage. But I would not have her lost, for my sons made her for me this last winter, carving her, as you see, with their own hands. Gladly would I see her safe if it might be."

"Then we will try to get her," answered my father; "for there are one or two things that my children have made for me, and I would not lose them for the sake of a little trouble. And, moreover, I think your sons have made you the best boat that ever floated!"

"Else had I not been here!" answered the Dane. "They are good shipwrights."

Then Kenulf and the men set to work, and it was no easy matter to come by the boat; but it was done at last, and glad was I to see her safely lashed on deck. Then the time had come, and we up anchor and plunged homewards through the troubled seas of the wide harbour mouth. It was I who steered, as I ever would of late, while the Dane stood beside me, stroking his hawk and speaking to it now and then. And once or twice he looked long and earnestly at the breakers, knowing now from what he had escaped; and at last he said to me:

"Many a man, I know, would have rather let me go on than have run the risk of saving one from the sea. Do you dare go against the saying?"

"Why not? I may not say that it came not into our minds," I answered; "but Christian men will put such ill bodes aside."

"Ah! I had forgotten your new faith," said Lodbrok. "Now from this time I, for one, have naught to say against it, for I think I owe it somewhat."

And he was silent for a while.

Now my father came aft, and sitting down by the Dane, asked him how he came to risk sailing in the little boat.

"I know not if you can believe me," answered Lodbrok, "but I will tell you in a few words. I have been blown from off the Jutland shore and have won through the gale safely. That is all. But it was by my own fault, for I must needs take the boat and put out to sea with my hawk there to find fresh sport. It seemed to me, forsooth, that a great black-backed gull or fierce skua would give me a fine flight or two. And so it was; but I rowed out too far, and before I bethought myself, both wind and tide were against me. I had forgotten how often after calm comes a shift of wind, and it had been over still for an hour or so. Then the gale blew up suddenly. I could have stemmed the tide, as often before; but wind and tide both were my masters then.

"That was three days and two nights ago. Never thought I to see another sunset, for by midday of that first day I broke an oar, and knew that home I could never win; so I made shift with the floor boards, as you saw, for want of canvas. After that there is little to tell, for it was ever wave after wave, and gray flying clouds ever over me, and at night no rest, but watching white wave crests coming after me through the dark."

"Some of us thought that you were a Finn, at least," said my father as the Dane paused.

"Not once or twice only on this voyage have I wished myself a Finn, or at least that I had a Finn's powers," said Lodbrok, laughing; "but there has been no magic about this business save watchfulness, and my sons' good handicraft."

Then I asked the jarl how he called his sons, with a little honest envy in my heart that I could never hope to equal their skill in this matter of boat building, wherein I had been wont to take some pride of myself.

"Three sons have I in Jutland, Wulfric, my friend, and they, when they hear my story, will hold you dear to them. Ingvar is the eldest, Hubba, the next, and the third, Halfden, is three-and-twenty, and so about your own age, as I take it, as he is also about your equal in build and strength. Yet I would sooner see a ship of mine steered by you than by him, for he is not your equal in that matter."

Now that praise pleased me well, as it did also my father. For we hold the Danes as first of all peoples in the knowledge of sea craft; and we had seen that this man was a master therein. But though at this time I thought of naught but the words of praise, hereafter I was to remember the words that Jarl Lodbrok spoke of the way in which these sons of his would hold me when the tale was told them.

At last we hailed the shore through the creeping dusk, and the shore lines were thrown out. Then were we alongside our staithe {iii}, and Lodbrok the Dane had come to Reedham.

Now it may seem but a little thing that a seafarer should be driven to a strange coast, and be tended there in friendly wise by those who saved him from the breakers, for such is a common hap on our island shores. Yet, from this day forward, all my life of the time yet before me was to be moulded by what came of that cast of line to one in peril. Aye, and there are those who hold that the fate of our England herself was in hand that day, though it seems to me that that is saying overmuch. Yet one cannot tell, and maybe those who will read this story of mine will be able to judge.

What I do know certainly is this, that all which makes my tale worth the telling comes from this beginning.



CHAPTER II. HOW LODBROK SPOKE WITH BEORN THE FALCONER.

So soon as we had stepped ashore there came in haste one of our housecarles with word from my mother that Eadmund, the king, had that day come to our house from Caistor; so at once my father bade the man return and bring changes of clothes for himself and me and Lodbrok to our steward's house, that we might appear in more decent trim before our guest and master.

So we waited for a little while, watching the men as they berthed the ship; and as we stood there a word went round among the knot of people watching with us, and they parted, making a little lane, as they said, "The king comes". And then I heard the well-known voice of Eadmund calling gaily to us:

"Ho, friend Elfric, here have I come to see what a man fresh from a stormy voyage looks like, if light will serve me."

And so saying, I being nearest to him, the king turned me round with his strong hands, and scanned my rough, wet garments and fur cap.

"Truly, son Wulfric," he cried, laughing, "I think these things suit you as well as war gear, and better than court finery, in this dim light at least. Now let me see the thane himself."

Then my father would have him come back to the house at once, out of the stormy weather, for the rain was coming now as the wind fell; and we went, not waiting for the change of garments, for that the king would not suffer.

As we turned away from the staithe, Lodbrok took my arm, asking me where he might find shelter.

"Why, come with us, surely!" I answered, having no thought but that he would have done so as our guest.

"Thanks," he said; "I knew not if your help could go so far as that to a man whose story might well be too strange for belief."

Now it had seemed to me that no one could doubt such a man, and so I told him that we had no doubt of him at all in that matter. And he thanked me gravely again, walking, as I thought, more freely beside me, as knowing that he was held to be a true man.

We followed my father, who walked with the king, at a little distance because of this small delay; and presently Lodbrok asked me if this was the King of all England.

"No," I answered; "though, indeed, he is the only king we know aught of. This is Eadmund of East Anglia."

"You know him well, as one may see by his way with you," said the jarl.

"Surely, for he is my father's close friend. They were comrades together in King Offa's court until the old king laid down his crown and gave the kingdom into Eadmund's hands; and they are the same to each other now as ever. He is my godfather; and I was in his court till I was eighteen. Moreover, I am one of his armour bearers yet when need is."

So I spoke plainly enough, for I think that I had, and ever shall have, reason to be proud of our nearness to the king, of whom no man had but good to say since he, almost as a boy, came to the throne.

"So then it seems that fate has brought me to court," said the Dane.

"Yes, in a way," I told him; "for the king will ever bide with us when he would visit this side of his kingdom."

"I think that I have seen this king before," said Lodbrok presently; "for he is a man the like of whom one sees not twice."

"Then," said I, "he will surely remember you, for he never forgets one whom he has had reason to notice."

Whereat the jarl laughed a little to himself; but I had no time to ask why, for now we were come to the great door; and when my father would have let the king go in first Eadmund laughed at him, and took his arm and drew him in with him, so that there was a little delay, and we drew close.

Very bright and welcome looked the great oaken hall as we came in from the dark, rainy night. A great fire burnt on its stone hearth in the centre, and the long tables were already set above and below it. The bright arms and shields on the walls shone below the heads of deer and wolf and boar, and the gust of wind that came in with us flew round the wall, making a sort of ripple of changing colour run along the bright woven stuffs that covered them to more than a man's height from the floor. No one in all East Anglia had so well dight a hall as had Elfric, the rich Thane of Reedham.

Well used was I to all this, but never seemed it more homelike to me than when I came in fresh from the the cold, gray sea.

And now there stood on the high place to welcome us those whose presence made the place yet more beautiful to me—my mother, and Eadgyth my sister, and beside them were Bishop Humbert, our own bishop, and many thanes of the court, and some of the bishop's clergy. Such a gathering my father, and, indeed, all of us, loved, for all were well known to us.

Now I went to greet these dear ones and friends, and there was pleasant jest and laughter at us for coming thus sea clad and spray stained into the midst of that gay company. So that for a little time I forgot Lodbrok, who had not followed me beyond the hearth.

Then Eadgyth said to me:

"Who is that noble-looking man who stands so sadly and alone by the fire?"

I turned, blaming myself for this forgetfulness, and there was the Dane gazing into the flames, and seeming heedless of all that was going on. Nor do I think that I had ever seen one look so sad as looked that homeless man, as he forgot the busy talk and movement around him in some thoughts of his own.

So I went to him, touching his arm gently, and he started a little. Then his grave smile came, and he said:

"Truly, Wulfric, I had forgotten all things but my own home, and when I woke from my dream at your touch, half thought I that you were Halfden—that youngest son of mine of whom I told you."

Then so wistfully looked he at me that I could not forbear saying to him:

"You must hold me as in Halfden's place, for this will be your house, if you will, until there comes a ship that will take you home. Gladly will some of the Frisians we know take you at least to the right side of the broad seas."

"Aye, gladly would some have Lodbrok the Jarl with them," he answered, smiling strangely.

What he meant, beyond that he might pilot them well, I knew not, nor, indeed, thought that any hidden meaning lay in his words. So that his saying passed from my mind, until one day when I should have cause to understand it well enough.

I would have taken him now to present him to my mother, but she was gone, and there came to us one of the steward's men, who stared at the Dane as if he were some marvel, having doubtless heard his story from one of the seamen, but covered his wonder by bowing low and bidding him to an inner room where the thane had prepared change of garment for him. For my father, having the same full belief and trust in the stranger's word, would no more than I treat him in any wise but as an honoured guest.

Then said Lodbrok:

"Good shall surely ever be to the house that will thus treat a wanderer. Hardly would a castaway meet with so great kindness in my own land. Nor do I think that we Danes have made our name so well loved among English folk that we should look for the like among them."

But I answered that we of East Anglia had no cause to blame his people, who had made peace with us and kept it faithfully.

So the man led Lodbrok away, and I too went to seek gear more courtly than salt-stained and tar-spotted blue cloth of Lavenham.

There are few thanes' houses which have so many chambers as ours, for because of the king's friendship with us, my father had added, as it were, house to house, building fresh chambers out around the great hall itself, till all one might see was its long roof among the many that clustered round and against its walls, so that the thanes who came with him, or to see him, might have no cause to complain of ill lodging with Elfric of Reedham. So it had come to pass that our house was often the place where the court lay, and I know that many of the poorer thanes thanked my father for thus using his riches, since he saved them many a time the heavy expenses of housing king and court when their turn should have come. Yet my father would ever put aside those thanks, saying that he loved to see his house full, though I myself know that this saving of others less rich was in his mind.

One part of all these buildings we called "the king's house", for it was set apart for him, and between that and the great hall was a square and large chamber which Eadmund would use for his private audiences, and sometimes for council room. And there we used to gather from all parts of the place that we might enter the great hall in his train at supper time, for there was a door which led to the high table thence, so that the king need not go through the crowd of housecarles and lesser folk who sat, below the salt, along the walls. And in that chamber was a chimney to the fire, so that the hearth was against the wall, which was a marvel to many, but made the place more meet for the king. Ingild the merchant, my other godfather, whose home was in London, had brought men thence to make it for us, having the like in his own house after some foreign pattern.

There were two men only in this room when I returned ready for the feast. Both stood before the fire, and both were brightly dressed, and hardly, but for the drowsy hawk which sat unhooded on his hand, should I have known Lodbrok in the rich dress my father had had prepared for him. The other was Beorn, the king's falconer, who went everywhere with his master. These two were speaking together as they stood before the fire, and I thought that what Beorn said was not pleasing to the Dane, for he turned away a little, and answered shortly.

When they saw me both turned, Lodbrok with a smile of welcome, and Beorn with a loud, rough voice crying to me:

"Ho, Wulfric, here is a strange thing! This gold ring have I offered to your stranger here for his falcon—which has three wing feathers missing, moreover—and he will not sell, though I trow that a man cast ashore must needs want gold more than a bird which he may not fly save I gain him leave from the king."

"The bird is Wulfric's," said Lodbrok quietly.

"Nay, Jarl," I answered, "I would not take so loving a hawk from her master, and over all our manors you may surely fly her."

"See you there!" cried Beorn, with a sort of delight, not heeding my last words, "Wulfric will not have her! Now will you sell?"

Then Lodbrok looked at me with a short glance that I could not but understand, and said that it would surely grieve him if I would not take the falcon.

Pleased enough I was, though half unwilling to take what seemed as a forced gift. Yet to quiet Beorn—whom I never liked, as he was both overbearing and boastful, though of great skill in his art of falconry—I thanked the Dane, and went to where a hawking glove hung on the wall, for my arm would feel the marks of those strong talons for many a day, already. As I put it on I said that I feared the bird would hardly come to me, leaving her master.

"Once I would have said that she would not," said Lodbrok; "for until today she would bide with no man but myself and her keeper. But today she has sat on your wrist, so that I know she will love you well, for reasons that are beyond my guessing."

And so he shifted the falcon lightly from his wrist to mine, and there she sat quietly, looking from him to me as though she would own us both.

Then said Beorn, holding out his hand, on which he wore his embroidered state glove of office:

"This is foolishness. The bird will perch on any wrist that is rightly held out to her, so she be properly called," and he whistled shrill, trying to edge the falcon from my hand.

In a moment she roused herself, and her great wings flew out, striking his arm and face as he pushed them forward; and had he not drawn back swiftly, her iron beak would surely have rent his gay green coat.

"Plague on the kite!" he said; "surely she is bewitched! And if her master is, as they say, a wizard, that is likely—"

"Enough, Master Falconer," I said, growing angry. "Lodbrok is our guest, and this, moreover, is the court for the time. Why, the bird is drowsy, and has been with me already. There is no wonder in the matter, surely?"

But Beorn scowled, and one might see that his pride of falconry was hurt. Maybe he would have answered again, but I spoke to Lodbrok, asking him what the falcon was, as she was like none of ours, for this was a thing I knew Beorn would be glad to know, while his pride would not let him ask.

And Lodbrok answered that she was an Iceland gerfalcon from the far northern ocean, and went on to tell us of her powers of flight, and at what game she was best, and how she would take her quarry, and the like. And Beorn sat down and feigned to pay no heed to us.

Presently the Dane said that he had known gerfalcons to fly from Iceland to Norway in a day, and at that Beorn laughed as in scorn.

"Who shouted from Norway to Iceland to say that a lost hawk had come over?" he said.

The Dane laughed a little also, as at a jest; though one could tell that Beorn rather meant insult.

"Why," he answered, "the bird got loose from her master's ship as he sailed out of port in Iceland, and he found her at home in Nidaros at his journey's ending; and they knew well on what day she came, which was the same as that on which she got free."

Then I said, lest Beorn should scoff again:

"Now, if this falcon got free from here, surely she will go home to your land."

"Aye, and so my sons will think me dead, seeing her come without me. Wherefore keep her safely mewed until she has learnt that this is her home, for I would not have that mischance happen."

That I promised easily, for I prized the bird highly. And that I might not leave him with the surly Beorn, I asked the jarl to come and see her safely bestowed, and left the room with him.

As we crossed the courtyard to the mews, where our good hawks were, Lodbrok said to me:

"I fear yon falconer is ill pleased with me."

"I have a mind to tell the king of his rudeness to our guest," I answered.

"That is not worth while," said Lodbrok. "The man's pride is hurt that he should be thus baffled for all his skill, which, from his talk, must be great," and we both laughed, for Beorn loved his own praises.

Now when we got back the guests were gathering, and it was not long before the king entered, and at once called me.

"All here I know but one, Wulfric, and that one is your seafarer. Let me know him also that speech may be free among us."

So Lodbrok came, and he and the king looked long at one another before Eadmund spoke.

"I have heard your story, friend, and it is a strange one," he said pleasantly. "Moreover, I know your name in some way."

"Well known is the name of Ragnar Lodbrok, my forefather," said the jarl. "Mayhap the king remembers the name thus!"

"Aye," answered Eadmund, "that is a well-known and honoured name, and I think that Ragnar's son has a share in his courage. But your face also seems known to me, and it was not of the great Ragnar that I thought. Have we met in years past?"

Then Lodbrok said that he had been in London at a time when Offa the King was there, and it was long years ago, but that the very day might be remembered by reason of a great wedding that he had been to see out of curiosity, knowing little of Saxon customs. And he named the people who were married in the presence of Offa and many nobles.

Then Eadmund laughed a little.

"Now it all comes into my mind," he said; "you are the leader of those strangers who must needs come into the church in helm and mail, with axe and shield hung on shoulders. Moreover, for that reason, when men bade you depart and you went not, they even let you bide. So I asked your name—and now I can answer for it that Lodbrok Jarl you are."

And he held out his hand for the Dane to kiss, after our custom. But Lodbrok grasped and shook it heartily, saying:

"Thanks, Lord King, for that remembrance, and maybe also for a little forgetfulness."

Nor was Eadmund displeased with the freedom, but at that last saying he laughed outright.

"Kings have both to remember and forget," he said, "and maybe, if the citizens had not expected you to behave as wild vikings, you would have gone peacefully as you came?"

"That is the truth," said Lodbrok.

So I suppose there had been some fray, of little moment, with the London folk.

Then we followed the king into the hall; and Lodbrok and I together sat at table over against him. Soon I knew all that an hour or two of pleasant talk would teach me of his home and sons and sports, and the king asked now and again of Danish customs, not yet speaking of the voyage.

"For," said he, "it is ill recalling hardships until the feast is over. Then may one enjoy the telling."

Presently the gleemen sang to us; and after that the harp went round, that those who could might sing, and all the talk in hall was hushed to hear Eadmund himself, the men setting down ale cups and knives to listen, for he had a wondrously sweet voice, and sang from the ancient songs of Caedmon {iv}. Then I sang of the sea—some song I had made and was proud of, and it pleased all. And at length we looked at Lodbrok, wondering if he could take his turn.

"Fain would I try to please my host," he said, looking a little wistfully at my father; "but a man swept far from home against his will is no singer."

Then Eadmund pitied him, as did we all, and rose up.

"Feasting is over, thanes," he said. "Let us sit awhile in the other chamber and hear Lodbrok's story."

For he would ever leave the hall as at this time, so that the housecarles and lesser guests might have greater freedom of talk when we were gone.

So we rose up, and as we did so I saw Beorn, the falconer, look sourly at Lodbrok; and it misliked me that he should harbour any ill will even yet against the Dane who had done him no wrong.

Round the fire we sat; some ten of us in all, for Bishop Humbert and his folk went to their lodgings in the town, and there Lodbrok told the king of his voyage.

And when he named his sons, Eadmund looked grave, and said:

"I have heard of those two chiefs, Ingvar and Hubba. Did they not make a raid into Northumbria two years ago? Maybe they are yet there with the host."

"Aye," answered Lodbrok, seeming to wonder at the grave face of our king; "they went to Northumbria with the host that is yet there. They fought well and bravely at the place men call Streoneshalch {v}, gaining much booty. And it was by Ingvar's plan that the place was taken, and that was well done. But they left the host with their men after that, saying that there were over many leaders already."

Now we all knew the cruel story of the burning of that place; but Northumbria was a far-off kingdom, and with it we had naught to do. So, except perhaps the king, the rest of us were as little moved as if he had spoken of the taking of some Frankish town; for if my father thought more of it, being in the king's counsels, he passed it over.

"These sons of yours have a mind to be first then," he said lightly.

"Seeing that the blood of Ragnar Lodbrok is in their veins it could not well be otherwise," answered the jarl somewhat grimly.

Then he ended his tale, and the king was greatly pleased with him, so that he bade him bide in the court for a while that he might take back a good report of us to his own people.

Now when the king was with us, I gladly took up my duties as his armour bearer for the time; and therefore slept across the doorway of his chamber when he went to rest. So my father bestowed Lodbrok with the thanes in the great hall, and I left him there, following the king.

Well did I sleep that night, though, sailorwise, not so heavily but that any noise would rouse me in a moment. And as it drew towards morning the king stirred uneasily, and I looked up at him. Seeing that I woke he called me softly. The gray light of dawn came through the window, and I could see that he sat up in his bed, though I might not make out his face.

"I am here, Lord King. Is aught amiss?" I said, rising up with my sword in my hand.

"Strange dreams have I had, my son," he said, in his quiet voice, "and they trouble me."

"Let me know them, my master," I said, "and maybe the trouble will pass; for often that which seems sorely troublous in a dream is naught when one would put it into words."

"Sit on the bed and I will tell you," he answered; and when I was there close to him he went on:

"It was this: I thought that I was in some place where water gleamed beneath me, while overhead passed the tread of many feet with music of pipe and tabor as at a bridal. And I cannot tell what that place was. Then came to me the hand of this Lodbrok, and he, looking very sad and downcast, led me thence into the forest land and set me over against a great gate. And beyond that gate shone glorious light, and I heard the sound of voices singing in such wise that I knew it was naught but the gate of Heaven itself, and I would fain go therein. But between me and the gate sped arrows thick as hail, so that to reach it I must needs pass through them. Then said Jarl Lodbrok, 'Here is the entry, and it is so hard to win through because of me, yet not by my fault. But I think you will not turn aside for arrows, and when you come therein I pray you to remember me.' Then pressed I to the gate, unheeding of the arrow storm. And lo! the gate was an oak tree, tall and strong, yet beyond it was the light and the singing that I had reached. Then faded the face of Lodbrok, and after me looked sadly many faces, and one was yours, my son, and the nearest. So I woke."

"That is a wondrous dream," I said, not knowing what to make thereof, having no skill in reading these matters.

"Aye, my son," answered Eadmund; "nor can I read it; though I think I shall do so hereafter. Nevertheless it comes into my mind that the dream warns me that my time is short. Lie down again, my son. Let us sleep in peace while we may."

After that the king slept peacefully as a little child till full daylight came; but I for very sadness closed not my eyes again, for I thought that our king was fey {vi}.

But in the morning the dream had, as it seemed, passed from the mind of Eadmund, for he was very cheerful, as was his wont, and said naught of it. However, I told my father thereof, for the remembrance was heavy to me. And he, when he heard it, bit his lip a little, pondering, but at last laughed.

"Trouble not yourself about it, son Wulfric," he said; "were I to mind every dream that I have had, I think that I should take no joy in life. Why, every year, for the last five past, I have dreamed of sore shipwreck, and the old vessel's timbers are yet hanging together!"

I laughed also, and thought that maybe he was right—for my father's judgment was ever the best in my eyes—and so set my mind at rest, though the strangeness of the matter would not let it be altogether forgotten.

Now as days went on and we saw more of our guest, Lodbrok, there was, I think, no man of our household who would willingly have seen him take ship and leave us; for his ways and words were pleasant to all alike, and there seemed to be no craft of which he knew not something, so that he could speak to each man, in field or village or boat, of the things that he knew best. And that is a gift that may well be longed for by any man who would be loved by others.

Greatly pleased with him was Eadmund the King, so that he would talk long with him of the ways and laws and peoples beyond the seas; and also of hunting and hawking, which they both loved well. And in this last Lodbrok was the best skilled master I have ever known; and the king would ever have him ride beside him in the field while the court was yet with us. And that pleased not Beorn, though he kept his ill will to himself; and maybe I alone noted it, for I had not spoken of that meeting, of which I have told, even to my father.

Well, too, did my mother and Eadgyth like the courtly ways of the jarl, who was ever ready to tell them of the life in his household, and of the daughter, Osritha, who was its mistress since her mother died but a few years since, and her two elder sisters had been married to chiefs of their own land. Sometimes, too, they would ask him of the dress of the ladies of his land; but at that he would laugh and shake his head, saying that he only knew that they went wondrously clad, but that he could tell naught more of the matter.

"Weapons and war gear I may talk of by the hour," he said, "but women's gear is beyond me. But once my daughter and I wrought together in a matter that was partly of both, and that was when I needed a war flag. And so I drew out the great raven I would have embroidered on it, and they worked it in wondrous colours, and gold and silver round the form of the great bird, so that it seems to shift and flap its wings as the light falls on it and the breeze stirs it, as if there were magic therein."

Now Eadgyth was well skilled in this work, and thereat she must needs say that she would work me a flag for our ship, if the jarl would plan one. So it seems to me now that that evening was very pleasant, for they planned and shaped and began a flag whereon was drawn by the jarl a white falcon like the one he had given to me, and that was my thought, and it pleased him, as I think.

One day we came home early from our hunting, and Lodbrok and I sat in the great hall, while the summer rain swelled in torrents, with thunder and lightning sweeping over the river marshes and out to sea, and we looked at the weapons that hung on the walls.

"Little care I for your long spear and short sword, friend Wulfric," he said; "it seems to me that you must needs shorten the one and lengthen the other before you can be held well armed. And your bow is weak, and you have no axe."

For I had asked him what he thought of our Saxon weapons, else would he not have spoken so plainly. Then he thought for a little while, and said:

"Would you learn to use the axe?"

I answered that nothing would please me better; for of all things, I longed to excel in weapon play of all kinds.

"That is well," he said, "for I owe you my life, and I think that I can teach you that which will keep yours against any foe that you may meet; for you are of the right build for a good axeman, and not too old to learn."

Then we went to the smithy, and there, while the thunder raged outside, he forged me an axe of the Danish pattern.

"Thor's own weather!" he said, laughing; and as he spoke the blue lightning paled the red glow of the forge to a glimmer. "This should be a good axe, and were you not a Christian, I would bid you hold your beginning, as its wielder, of good omen."

Then the thunder crashed, and there was no need for me to answer. And in the end he taught me patiently, until, one day, he said:

"Now do you teach me to use your long spear. I can teach you no more axe play than you know. Some day you will meet an axeman face to face, and will find out what you know. Then, if I have taught you ill, say naught; but if well, then say 'Jarl Lodbrok taught me'."

Now I hold that the test of mastery of a weapon is that one wishes for no other, and I knew that I had learned that much. But I could not tell how much he had taught me, for axe play was new to me, and I had not seen it before.

After I had learned well, as he said, the jarl tempered the axe head, heating and cooling it many times, until it would take an edge that would shear through iron without turning. And he also wrought runes on it, hammering gold wire into clefts that he made.

"What say they?" I asked.

"Thus they read," he answered:

"Life for life. For Wulfric, Elfric's son, Lodbrok the seafarer, made me!"

Thereat I wondered a little, for I knew not yet what he had taught me. Yet when I asked why he wrote those first words, he only laughed, saying, "That you will know some day, as I think."

Now if I were to write all that went on until August came, I should speak of little but how the jarl and I were never apart; for though he was so much older than myself, I grew to be his fast friend. And many a long day did I spend with him in his boat, learning somewhat of his skill in handling her, both on river, and broad, and sea. Very pleasant those days were, and they went all too soon.

No ship came in that could help him homewards, and though the Danish host was in Northumbria, he cared not to go there, for his sons were gone home. And Eadmund would fain see more of him, so that, although I would willingly have taken our ship across the seas, for the first time, to his place, he would not suffer me to do so; for he said that he was not so restless here with us, and that his sons and Osritha, his daughter, had doubtless long thought him dead.

Now in June the king had gone to Framlingham, and in August came back to Thetford. Then he sent for my father, begging him to bring Lodbrok with him, that together they might hunt over the great heaths that stretch for many a mile north and west and south of the town. No better sport is there for hawk and hound than on Brandon and Croxton heaths, and the wilds to which our Saxon Icklings and Lakings have given their names, for they stretch from forest to fen, and there is no game in all England that one may not find there, from red deer to coney, wolf to badger, bustard to snipe, while there are otter and beaver in the streams.

So they would go, for the wish of a king is, as it were, a command, even had not both my father and Lodbrok loved to be with him, whether in hall or field. And I thought that I should surely go also.

However, my father had other plans for me, and they were none other than that I should take the ship round to London with some goods we had, and with some of the new barley, just harvested, which would ever find ready sale in London, seeing that no land grows better for ale brewing than ours of East Anglia.

Now that was the first time I had been trusted to command the ship unaided by my father's presence, though of late he would say that he was owner, not captain, and but a passenger of mine; so, though I was sorry not to go to Thetford, I was more proud of myself than I would show; and maybe I would rather have taken to the sea had there been choice.

I was to go to my godfather, Ingild the merchant, who would, as ever, see to business for me; and then, because the season was late, and wind and weather might keep me long in the river, my father bade me stay with him, if I would, and if need were lay up the ship in Thames for the winter, coming home by the great Roman street that runs through Colchester town to our shores; or if Ingild would keep me, staying in London with him even till spring came again.

"If I must leave the ship," I said, "I shall surely come back to hunt with the jarl and you."

"Nevertheless," answered my father, smiling, "Ingild will have many a brave show for you in town. Wait till you get to London, for the court of Ethelred himself will very likely be there, and there will be much to see. And maybe you will find some Danish ship in the river, and will send her captain here to take the jarl home with him; for we may not hold him as a prisoner with us."

Then Lodbrok added that, in any case, I might find means to send messages to his home by some ship sailing to ports that he named; and that I promised I would do. Thereon he gave me a broad silver ring, rune graven, to show as a token to any of his countrymen whom I might meet, for the ring was known.

"Do not part with it, Wulfric," he said, as I thanked him; "for it may be of use to you some day, if not on this voyage. Jarl Lodbrok is well known on the high seas, and he gives not rings for naught."

Now I would not take the falcon with me, but begged the jarl to use her; and I asked him also to train for himself a greyhound that I had bred, and of which he thought highly.

"Why," said he, "I shall have the best hawk and dog in all Thetford town, and Beorn the falconer will have naught to say to me."

Thereat we laughed, for Beorn's jealousy was a sport to us when we thought of it, which was seldom enough.

So these two went to Thetford, and in the last week of August I sailed for London, with a fair breeze over the quarter, from our haven.



CHAPTER III. WHAT CAME IN A NORTH SEA FOG.

Night saw our ship off Orfordness, and there the breeze failed us, and a thick fog, hiding the land and its lights, crept up from seaward and wrapped us round. But before it came, on Orfordness a fire burnt redly, though what it was, unless it might be some fisher's beacon, we could not tell.

The fog lifted as we drifted past the wide mouth of Stour and Orwell rivers with a little breeze, and the early daylight showed us the smoke of a fire that burnt on the higher land that shuts in the haven's mouth on its southern shores. But even as we saw it, the fog closed round us again and the wind died away, so that we lowered the sail, and the men got out the oars, and slowly, while Kenulf swung the lead line constantly, we crept on among the sand banks down the coast.

Presently the tide turned against us, and Kenulf thought well that we should drop anchor and wait for its turning again. The men gladly laid in the oars, and the anchor rattled out and held. The ship swung to her cable, and then there seemed deep silence after the even roll and creak of the great sweeps in their rowlocks. The fog was very dense, and beyond our stem head I could see nothing.

Then to break the silence came to us, over no great stretch of water as it seemed, the sound of a creaking block, the fall of a yard on deck, and a voice raised in some sharp order. Then I thought I heard an anchor plunge, and there was silence. Very ghostly it seemed to hear these familiar sounds and to see naught, and it was the more so that we might by no means judge from which side of us, or fore or aft, the noises came, for fog will confuse all things, and save a driving snowstorm, I dread nothing more at sea.

Now the men began to speak in whispers, for the silence and weirdness of the fog quieted us all. And, moreover, when the fog lifted we had seen no ship, though there must be one close to us now, and we wondered.

But Kenulf came to me presently with a scared face, and waiting till the men had gone forward to find their food, he asked me if I heard the voice that spoke.

"Aye, surely," I answered. "What of it?"

"Master," he said, "the voice was a Danish voice, as I think. And I mind me of the fires we saw."

"What then?" said I carelessly, though indeed I could see well what fear was in the old man's mind. Yet I would have him put the thing into words, being ready to look the worst in the face at any time.

"The vikings, master," he answered; "surely they were in Orwell mouth and saw us, and have given chase."

"We should have seen them also," I said.

"Not so, master, for the fog hung inland, and if a Dane lies in such a place he has ever men watching the sea—and they will sail two ship's lengths to our one."

"Supposing the ship is a viking, what should we do now?" I asked, for I knew of naught to do but bide where we were.

"Go back with tide and slip past them even now," said Kenulf, though I think he knew that this was hopeless, for if we rowed, the sound of our oars would betray us, and if not we should be on a shoal before long, whence any escape would be impossible.

"Hark!" I said in another moment, and we listened.

There was little noise beyond the lapping of the swift tide against our sides. The men forward were silent, and I had thought that I heard the distant sound of voices and oars.

It came again in the stillness; a measured beat that one could not well mistake, as of a ship's boat leisurely pulled.

Then one of our men began to sing in an undertone, and Kenulf smote his hands together in terror, for the sound would betray us, and he was going forward to stop the song.

"No matter," said I, "they know we are not far off, for I think they must have anchored when they heard us do so, as we heard them. If they seek us they will soon find us."

"They are coming nearer," said Kenulf, and I heard the oars more plainly yet.

Now the thought of calling my men to arms came over me, but I remembered how Lodbrok had told me that resistance to vikings, unless it were successful, meant surely death, but that seldom would the unresisting be harmed, even if the ship were wantonly burnt after plunder, and the crew set adrift in their boat.

Still the oars drew nearer, and I thought of the words that Lodbrok had spoken—how that shipmen would be glad of his presence—and I wished that he were indeed with me, for now I knew what he meant.

Now, too, I knew his gift of the ring to be our safety, and surely he had given it to me for this. So I grew confident, and even longed to see the sharp bow of the boat cleave the mist, if only her crew knew of our friend by name at least. Yet they might be Norse—not Danish.

But the sound of oars crossed our bows and died away again, and then a voice hailed from the ship, as I thought, and there was silence.

Kenulf and I breathed more freely then, and we too went forward and ate and drank, and afterwards spoke of the chance of slipping away when the tide turned, though I was sure that, if the ship were what we thought, she would up anchor and drift with us.

So the hours of flood tide passed, and then the ship began to swing idly as the slack came. Then with the turn of tide came little flaws of wind, and we hoisted the sail, and Kenulf hove the anchor short. Yet we heard no more sounds from the other ship.

Then all in a minute the fog thinned, lifted, and cleared away, and I saw the most beautiful sight my eyes had ever lighted on, and the most terrible.

For, not half a mile from us, lay a great viking snekr {vii}, with the sunlight full on her and flashing from the towering green and gold and crimson dragon's head that formed her stem, and from the gay line of crimson and yellow shields that hung along her rail from end to end of the long curve of her sides. Her mast was lowered, and rested, with the furled blue and white striped sail, on the stanchions and crossbars that upheld it, to leave the deck clear for swing of sword and axe; and over the curving dragon tail of the stern post floated a forked black and golden flag. And wondrously light and graceful were the lines on which she was built, so that beside her our stout cargo ship showed shapeless and heavy, as did our log canoes beside Lodbrok's boat. As soon should our kitchen turnspit dog fly the greyhound that I had given Lodbrok, as such a ship as ours from this swift viking's craft.

But her beauty was not that which drew the eyes of my men. Little they thought of wonder or pleasure in gazing on the ship herself. All her decks were crowded with scarlet-cloaked men, and the sunlight which made the ship so bright flashed also from helm and spear and mail coat from stem to stern. And at that sight every tale of viking cruelty they had heard came into their minds, and they were overcome with terror, so that I thought that several would have cast themselves into the sea, away from the terrible ship, choosing rather death by water than by the sword. But I saw some half dozen whose faces set hard with other thoughts than these, and they turned to seek their weapons from under the fore deck.

Then I spoke to them, for it was time; and I would have neither fear nor defiance shown, for I knew that we should be boarded.

"Yonder ship belongs, as I think, to the people of our guest, Lodbrok the Dane. So it seems to me that they will gladly hear news of him from us, as he is a great man in Denmark. And surely we have deserved well of his folk in every way, and we of East Anglia are at peace with the Danish host. Therefore, let us wait till they board us, and then let no man stir from his place or speak a word, that I may talk with them in peace."

Those words were listened to eagerly, and they wrought on the minds of my poor fellows as I wished. Moreover, to put our one chance of safety into form thus heartened me also, for I will not say that I feared nothing from these vikings, who might know and care naught concerning our sea-borne guest, even were they Danes.

Yet it seemed that none saw my fears, for in a little the men asked if they might take their weapons. And though it seemed hard to me and them alike to bide unarmed, I knew it was safer, and so bade them meet the Danes in all peaceful seeming.

Now we saw a boat lowered from the longship's side, and one by one armed men entered her, and she sank deeply in the water. Ten I counted, and at last one more, who, I supposed, was the leader.

So deep was she that, as she left the ship, I thought how that one sack of our grain, hove into her as she came alongside, would sink her and leave her crew to drown in our sight. But then the ship herself would close on us, and not one of us but would pay for that deed with his life.

So she came slowly over the glassy water of the slack tide, and my men watched her, saying nothing.

Soon she came alongside, and at a sign from me Kenulf threw a line which the bowman caught, and I thought that a word or two of wonder passed among her crew. They dropped to where the curve of our deck was lowest, and instantly the leader leapt on board and all but one of his men followed, axe or drawn sword in hand. As I had bidden them, not one of my men stirred save Kenulf, who made fast the line and stood watching.

The leader was a young man, of about my own age, clad in golden shining bronze scale armour and wearing a silver helm on which were short, black, curving horns; and he bore a double-headed axe, besides the sword at his side. He looked round on us—at the men standing silent, at Kenulf, and at me as I stood on the after deck resting on the tiller, and broke into a great laugh.

"Well," he cried, "are you all dumb, or fools, or wise men; or a little of all three?"

But my men answered nothing, even as I had bidden them, and I thought that my time was not yet come to speak.

"The fog has got into their throats," said a Dane; for with a great lifting of my heart I knew their tongue, and it was Lodbrok's and not Norse.

"Struck speechless with fear more like," said another.

"Ho, men," said the leader, "which is your captain?"

One of our crew pointed to me, and I came to the break of the deck saying:

"I am master of this ship."

And I spoke as a Dane, for my long company with Lodbrok had given me the very turn of his speech.

At that the viking stared at me, and one of his men said:

"When did Danes take to trading on this coast?"

"You are Saxon by all seeming," said the leader, "yet you speak like a Dane. Whence are you, and how learned you our tongue so glibly?"

"We are from Reedham in East Anglia, which is at peace with the Danish host," I said; "and I learnt the Danish speech from one who is my friend, Lodbrok the Dane, whom men call Jarl Lodbrok."

Now at that word the Danes all turned to me, and hardly one but let fall some word of wonder; and the young leader took two great steps towards me, with his face flushing and his eyes lit up with a new look.

Then he stopped, and his face changed, growing white and angry, and his teeth closed tightly as he looked at me. Then he said:

"Now if you are making a tale to save your skins, worse shall it be for you. What know you of Lodbrok?"

I held out my hand, on which the jarl's ring shone white against the sea-browned skin.

"Here is a token he gave me before I sailed, that some friend of his might know it and speak to me," I said.

The viking dropped his axe on the deck and seized my hand, gazing at the ring and the runes graven thereon.

"Lives he yet?" he said, breathless.

"Aye, Halfden Lodbroksson, your father lives and is well in our house," I answered; for now I knew that this was surely the youngest of those three sons of whom the jarl had told me so often.

Now at that word the Danes broke into a great cheer, but Halfden laid his hands on my shoulders and kissed me on both cheeks, while the tears of joy ran down his face.

"Well must Lodbrok my father love you if he has told you so much that you know me by name," he cried; "and well does he trust you since he has given you his ring. Tell me more and ever more of him."

Then sudden as before his mood changed, and he let me go and climbed on the rail with his arm round a backstay, and taking off his helm he lifted up a mighty shout to his ship:

"Found is Jarl Lodbrok, ahoy!"

And with uplifted weapons his men repeated the shout, so that it seemed as though the loved name was heard across the still water, for the men on board the ship cheered in answer.

Now nothing would serve Halfden but that I must go with him on board his own ship, there to tell him all I might; and he laughed gaily, saying that he had looked indeed for a rich booty, but had gained that which was more worth to him.

Then I told Kenulf that we would bide at anchor till we knew what should be done, thinking it likely that Halfden would wish us to pilot him back to Reedham.

"We shall lose our tide," grumbled the old man, who was himself again, now that he knew we had naught to fear.

"That is all we shall lose," I answered, "and what matters it? we have all our time before us."

"I like not the weather," he said shortly.

But I paid no more heed to him, for Halfden spoke to me.

"Let me leave a few men here," he said; "the boat is overladen, and the sea is rising with the breeze;" and then he added with a smile that had much grim meaning in it. "They bide as friends with you, and but for our safety; not to take charge of your ship."

So I bade Kenulf give the three who remained the best cheer that we might, treating them as Lodbrok's men; for the old pilot loved the jarl well, and I knew that for his sake he would do much.

Then in a few more minutes I stood on the deck of Halfden's ship, and word went round quickly of my news, so that I had a good welcome. Yet I liked not the look of the Danish men, after the honest faces of our own crew. It seemed to me that they were hard featured and cruel looking, though towards me were none but friendly looks. Yet I speak of the crew only, for Halfden was like his father in face and speech, and that is saying much for him in both.

They spread a great awning, striped in blue and white like the sail, over the after deck, and there they set food and wine for us, and Halfden and I sat down together. And with us one other, an older man, tall and bushy bearded, with a square, grave face scarred with an old wound. Thormod was his name, and I knew presently that he was Halfden's foster father, and the real captain of the ship while Halfden led the fighting men.

"Food first and talk after," quoth this Thormod, and we fell to.

So when we had finished, and sat with ale horns only before us, Halfden said:

"I have sought tidings of my father from the day when he was lost until this. Now tell me all his story from end to end."

And I did so; though when it came to the throwing of the line to the boat I said naught of my own part in that, there being no need, and moreover that I would not seem to praise myself. And I ended by saying how Lodbrok was even now at court with Eadmund, our king, and high in favour with him and all lesser men.

Many were the questions that the Danes asked me as I spoke, and I answered them plainly, for indeed I was glad to see the look in Halfden's eyes as I spoke to him of his father, I having naught but pleasant things to tell of him, which one may say of few men, perhaps. And by and by I spoke of his having taught me the use of the Danish axe.

"Ho!" said Thormod; "hold your peace for a while, and we will see what sort of pupil he had."

Then he rose up and took his axe, and bade me take Halfden's, which I did, not over willingly maybe, while Halfden stood by, smiling.

"I will not harm you," said Thormod shortly, seeing that I was not over eager. "See here!"

His ale horn stood on the low table where we had been sitting, and now he placed it on the gunwale, going from under the awning. The men who sat along the decks looked up at him and were still.

Then he heaved up the axe with both hands and whirled it, bringing it down with such force that I looked to see both horn and gunwale shorn through. But so skilful was he that he stayed that mighty stroke so that the keen edge of the axe rested on the horn's rim without marking it, and all the men who were watching cried out:

"Skoal {viii} to Thormod the axeman!"

"So," said he; "now stand up and guard a stroke or two; only strike not as yet, for maybe your axe would go too far," and he smiled grimly, as in jest.

But I had learned that same trick from the jarl.

Now Lodbrok had told me that when one has a stronger axeman to deal with than one's self the first thing is to guard well. So he had spent long hours in teaching me guard after guard, until I could not fail in them.

"I am ready," I said, standing out before him.

Thormod feinted once or twice, then he let fly at me, striking with the flat of his axe, as one does when in sport or practice. So I guarded that stroke as the jarl had taught me; and as I did so the men shouted:

"Well done, Saxon!"

"No need to go further," said Thormod, dropping his axe and grasping his wrist with his left hand; for that parry was apt to be hard on the arm of the man who smote and met it. "That is the jarl's own parry, and many an hour must he have spent in teaching you. It is in my mind that he holds that he owes you his life."

And from that time Thormod looked at me in a new way, as I felt.

Halfden was well pleased, and shouted:

"Nay, Thormod; your turn to guard now; let Wulfric smite at you!"

"No, by Thor, that will I not," he said; "he who taught to guard has doubtless taught to strike, and I would not have my head broken, even in play!"

Now he sat down, and I said, mindful of Lodbrok's words:

"It seems to me that I have been well taught by the jarl."

"Aye, truly," said Thormod; "he has taught you more than you think."

Halfden would have me keep his axe, but I told him of that one which the jarl had made for me, and straightway he sent the boat for it, and when it came read the runes thereon.

"Now this says that you are right, Thormod! Here has my father written 'Life for life'—tell us how that was!"

So I said that it was my good fortune to cast him the line that saved his boat, and that was all. But they made as much of that as did Lodbrok himself. And when the men came from our ship, they brought that tale from our men also; so that they made me most welcome, and I was almost fain to get away from them.

But we sat and talked while the tide went by and turned, and still we lay at anchor until the stars came out and the night wind began to sing in the rigging of the great ship.

Now I had thought that surely Halfden would have wished to sail back to Reedham at once, there to seek his father; but I knew not yet the power which draws a true viking ever onward to the west, and when I said that we would, if he chose, sail back with him on the next tide, he only laughed, saying:

"Why so? My father is well and in good case. Wherefore we will end our cruise well if we can, and so put in for him on our way home at the season's end."

"What would you do, then?" I asked, wondering.

"Raid somewhere," he answered carelessly. "We will not go home without some booty, or there will be grumbling among the wives; but for your sake we will go south yet, for you are bound for London, as I think."

I said that it was so, and that I would at once go back to Reedham when my business was done, there to prepare for his coming.

"That is well; and we will sail to Thames mouth together. And you shall sail in my ship to tell me more of my father, and because I think we shall be good friends, so that I would rather have you come and raid a town or two with me than part with you. But as you have your ship to mind, we will meet again at Reedham, and I will winter there with you, and we will hunt together, and so take you home with us in the spring."

Now this seemed good to me, and pleased me well enough, as I told him. Where Halfden and his crew went, south of Thames mouth, was no concern of mine—nor, indeed, of any other man in East Anglia in those days. That was the business of Ethelred, our overlord, if he cared to mind the doings of one ship. Most of all it was the concern of the sheriff in whose district a landing was made.

So messages were sent to old Kenulf, and glad was he to know that we should not have to give up our passage to London, and maybe still more to feel safe in this powerful company from any other such meetings. And before the tide served us, Halfden had said that he also would come to London, so that our ship should lead the way up the river.

When we weighed anchor Thormod must needs, therefore, reef and double reef his sail, else our ship had been hull down astern before many hours had passed, so swift was the longship.

Now I have said that old Kenulf had misliked the look of the weather, and now Thormod seemed uneasy. Yet the breeze came fresh from the southeast; and though it had shifted a good deal, I, for my part, thought little ill of that, for it held in that quarter till we were fairly among the sands of the Thames mouth at nightfall, and Kenulf lit lanterns by which we might follow him. No man knew the Thames-mouth channels better than our pilot, Kenulf the sea crafty, as we called him.

Then it fell dead calm, quite suddenly, and we drifted, with the sail flapping against the mast idly, for half an hour or so. Then fell on us, without warning, such a fierce gale as I had never before seen, blowing from north and west, with rain and bright lightning, and it raised in five minutes a sea that broke over us again and again as Thormod brought the ship head to wind.

Then I lost sight of Kenulf's lights, and as I clung to the rail, my mind was torn with longing to be back in my own ship in this danger, though I knew that Kenulf needed me not, and that, had I been there, it would but have been to obey him with the rest of our crew; yet I think that any man who loves his ship will know what I felt.

And of the fury and darkness of that night I will say little. This is what comes into my mind of all that happened—aye, and at night, when the wind roars round the house, I see it all again, waking in my dreams as I call to Kenulf. One flash of lightning showed me my ship dismasted and helpless, drifting broadside on to a sand over which the waves broke white and angry, and when the next flash came—she was gone!

Then I cried out on my folly in leaving her, and out of the blackness beside me as I clung to the gunwale, straining my eyes against the spray, Halfden's voice came, crying, as he gripped my arm:

"By Odin—it is well that I kept you here!"

And Thormod from the helm shouted to his men to stand by the sheet, and the helm went down, and the ship drove through the seas that broke clean over her as he saw the danger in time to stand away from it, heading her as free as he dared.

Naught of this I heeded, for I could think but of the stout sailor men with whom I had been brought up, and of whom I knew only too surely that I should see them not again. And for them I tried to pray, for it was all that I could do, and it seemed so little—yet who knows what help may come therefrom?

Now the longship fought alone with the storm. Hard was the fight, but I, who was willing to die with my own people who had gone before my eyes, cared nothing for whether we won through the gale or not. But Thormod called to me, bidding me pilot them as best I might, and so I was taken a little from my thoughts. Yet can I take no praise to myself that, when the gale slackened, we were safe and beyond the dangers of the shoals.

We were far down channel when morning broke, and on either bow were white cliffs, plain to be seen in the clear light that came after the short fury of the gale was spent. Never had I thought that a ship could sail so wondrously as this of Halfden's, and yet I took no pleasure therein, because of all that I had lost. And it seemed to me that now I knew from my own chance why it was that Lodbrok could sing no song to us at that feasting, when we came home to Reedham; for surely my case was even as his.

So I thought, leaning on the gunwale and staring ever at the white cliffs of England on our starboard; and there Halfden found me, and came, putting his hand on my shoulder very kindly.

"Now if you have lost friends and ship by the common chances of the sea," he said, "surely you have found both anew. You shall turn viking and go on this raid with us. Glad shall we be of your axe play and seamanship."

I turned to him and put my hand into his.

"I will go with you, Halfden," I said, for it seemed at that time that I had naught else left for me to do.

And ever since I was a child, listening to the songs of the gleemen, had I thought that some day I, too, would make a name for myself on the seas, as my forefathers had made theirs, so that my deeds should be sung also. Yet that longing had cooled of late, as the flying people from Mercia had found their way now and then to us with tales of Danish cruelties.

"That is well said," he answered, pleased enough. "Where shall we go?"

Then I had yet thought enough left me to say that against our Saxon kin I would not lift axe. And so came to me the first knowledge that what wiser men than I thought was true—that the old seven kingdoms were but names, and that the Saxon and Anglian men of England were truly but one, and should strive for that oneness, thinking no more of bygone strifes for headship.

"Why, that is fair enough, so you have no grudge to pay off," he said; "but I will help you to settle any, if you have them."

"I have no grudge against any man," I answered, truly enough.

"Then if we raid on English shores, you shall keep ship, as someone must; and so all will be satisfied," he answered; "but we will go first to the Frankish shores, for it is all one to me."

So that pleased me as well as anything would at that time; whereupon we went to Thormod, and he was very willing that I should take part and share with them. And as to my loss, he bade me take heart, for a seaman has ever risks such as these to run; and, as it seemed, this ship of ours had ever been lucky. Which was true enough, as my father had told me by the fireside many a time.

After this we headed over to the Frankish shore, and there I had my first fight. For we raided a town there, and the citizens stood up to us well. I fought in silence, while my comrades yelled to Thor and Odin as they smote, for those against whom we fought were Christian men, and to fight against them by the side of heathen went against me. Yet the lust of battle took hold on me, and fight I must. But I will tell no more of that business, save that Halfden and Thormod praised me, saying that I had done well. And after that the crew asked that I should lead the men amidships, for their head man had been slain, and Halfden was on the fore deck, and Thormod aft. So my boyish dreams were like to come to pass, for I was thus a viking indeed. Yet I had little pride therein.

Thence we raided ever eastward and westward along that shore, and I grew to love Halfden well, strange as were his wild ways to me. For he was in all things most generous; nor was he cruel, but would hold back the more savage of the men when he could—though, indeed, that was seldom—when they were mad with fighting.

So the weeks went on, until at last one day as we left a haven where we had bided for a while, taking ransom from the town that we might leave it in peace, we spied a sail far off coming from eastward, and Thormod would have us bear up for her, to see what she might be. But instead of flying, as a trading ship would, the strange vessel waited for us, lowering her sail and clearing for action, so that there was doubt if she was not Norse. Now between Dane and Northman is little love lost, though at times they have joined hands, loosely as one might say, or as if cat and dog should go together to raid a rabbit warren.

"If she be Norse," said Halfden, and his eyes shone, "we will fight her, and that will be a fight worth telling of by the crew that is left when we have done!"

But she turned out to be Danish, and a boat came from her to us. She was on the same errand as ourselves, and, moreover, belonged to one Rorik, who was a friend of Lodbrok's, so that again I must go through all the story of his perils.

Now if Halfden's men had seemed rough and ill-favoured to me when first I saw them, time and comradeship had worn off the feeling, but it came back to me as I looked on these men, and most of all on this Rorik; so that for a little I hated myself for being in their company to make war on peaceful Christian folk, though, indeed, I could well excuse myself, seeing what straits had thrown me thus among them to follow the ways of my own forefathers, Hengist's men.

These newcomers held long counsel with Halfden and Thormod, and the end of it was that they agreed to sail in company, making a raid on the English coast, and first of all on the South Saxon shores, behind the island that men call Wight. And that was the thing that I had feared most of all, so that as I sat silent and listened, taking no part, as I might, in the planning, my heart seemed like to break for the hardness of it.

Yet I set my face, saying naught, so that presently Rorik looked over at me and laughed, crying in a kind of idle jest:

"Silent is our friend here, though he looks mighty grim, so that I doubt not he will be glad to swing that big axe of his ashore."

Now I was in ill company, and must fit my speech to theirs, answering truly enough:

"It seems to me that some of us here were a little downcast when we found that you were no Northmen, for we looked for a fight."

Whereon they all laughed, and Rorik said that maybe his men had the same longing, but that we would make a great raid between us. And so the matter passed, and he and his men went back to their ship, and we headed over to the English shore together.



CHAPTER IV. THE SONG OF THE BOSHAM BELL.

There is a wondrous joy in the heart of a man who sees his own land again after long days at sea, but none of that joy might be mine as the long lines of the South Downs showed blue through the haze of the late September day. Only the promise of Lodbrok's son, that on English shores I should not fight, helped me a little, else should I have been fain to end it all, axe to axe with Rorik on the narrow deck just now, or in some other way less manful, that would never have come into my mind but for the sore grief that I was in. And these thoughts are not good to look back upon, and, moreover, I should have fully trusted my friend Halfden Lodbroksson.

Hardest of all was it to me when I knew where our landing was to be made; for if Glastonbury is the most holy place in Wessex, so should Bosham, the place of Wilfrith the Saint, be held in reverence by every South Saxon; because there, unmindful of his wrongs {ix}, he was content to labour with the wild heathen folk, teaching them, both in body and soul, the first lessons of our holy faith.

Well knew I the stories of those places which I saw as the ships crept up the haven, for Humbert our bishop had told me them many a time when as a child I sat on his knee and listened, wondering. There was Selsea with its pile of buildings—Wilfrith's own—there the little cliff over which the starving heathen had cast themselves in their despair, and there, at last, the village, clustering round the little monastery that Dicul, the Irish monk, had founded, and where Wilfrith had first taught. And now, maybe, I must see the roofs that had sheltered him, and heard the first praises of his converts, burnt before my eyes, and that while I myself was siding with the destroyers.

Then at last I took Halfden aside and told him my trouble, putting him in mind of the promise he had made me.

"Aye," said he, "I knew what made you so silent, and I have but waited for you to speak. Ill should I have thought of you had you not done so. But I have this plan for you. You shall go ashore with the first, and speak to the Saxons to give us ransom, if they have aught, or if any man is foolish enough to bide in the place when we come. Then, if you will, you shall leave us and make your way homeward, there to give messages to my father and yours, and to look for my coming to Reedham shortly. There will I winter with you, and we will sail to Jutland in the spring."

Then he looked long at me, and put his arm round my shoulder.

"Truly I shall miss you, Wulfric, my brother, yet it is but for a short time."

Now I knew not how to thank him, for this plan was all that I could wish. And he would have no delay, but gave me good Saxon arms and helm, and a chain-mail byrnie {x} of the best, such as Saxon or Dane alike would wear, for he had many such, gathered from the different lands he had raided with his father and brothers.

"Any man, seeing you in Danish arms and helm," he said, "might well mistrust you. So you must needs take these, for you have far to go."

Then, too, he pressed on me a heavy leathern bag, for he said truly enough that I should need gold withal to buy a horse. And this I took willingly, saying that it should be as a loan till he came to Reedham.

"Nay," quoth he, "this is your share of booty; we surely gained enough on yonder shores to bring you this much."

Then I was silent, for I was ashamed of those gains, and I did not look into the bag, but bestowed it inside my mail shirt, for I would not offend him. Then, when I was armed and ready, he gave me many messages for his father, and thanks to mine. A ring, too, he gave me for a sure token of his friendship to me; and so as the ship crept, under oars only, up Bosham haven, we talked of the hunting we would have together, when the leaves were fallen in our forests; and that was pleasant to look forward to.

Now began frightened men to run to and fro on the haven's banks, and then suddenly came the ringing of a bell from the low tower of the church, and the Danes began to look to their arms, stringing bows, and bringing up the pebble ballast for sling stones, in case the landing should be resisted.

But when we came to a little wharf, the other ship being perhaps a mile astern of us, there was no man. Only a small fishing vessel lay alongside, and that we cast adrift, taking its place.

Then Halfden and I and twenty men went quickly ashore and marched up among the trees of the village street. There was no man in sight, but the bell was still ringing.

A great fear for the holy men shut up in the little monastery came over me now, and I asked Halfden to let me warn them, for I knew that he was like his father and would not deny me in this.

"Go and do so if you can," he said, "and so farewell till we meet at Reedham. We shall bide here till Rorik's men join us, and you will have time."

So he took my hand and I went quickly thereafter, the men calling after me "Farewell, axeman!" heartily enough, knowing of my going to Reedham, and caring nothing for the monks, seeing that there would be no fighting.

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